Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (RTS 49)



  Although Great Britain has one of the best road safety records in the world, 3,409 people were killed and 316,874 were injured on the roads in the year 2000 (DTLR 2001a). Research has shown that excessive and inappropriate speed is a major contributory factor in road accidents and to the severity of any resulting injury. The recommendations of the speed policy review started by DETR in 1999 were published as "New Directions in Speed Management—A review of Speed Policy" (DETR 2000a). In March 2000 the Government set new casualty reduction targets and the strategy for achieving them. These were published in the Road Safety Strategy document, "Tomorrow's roads—Safer for Everyone" (DETR 2000b). The remainder of this memorandum addresses the specific questions put by the Committee.


  The relationship between speed and safety is complex. Research by TRL (Finch et al 1994 and Taylor et al 2000) provides clear evidence that lower speeds result in fewer collisions and the collisions that do occur are of lesser severity. Some of the conclusions from the research are compelling, but should not be taken out of context and extended outside the range covered in the relevant studies, and these include:

(i)  Causing crashes

  In any given situation on urban roads, the faster the average traffic speed, the more collisions there are—the accident frequency rises approximately with the square of the average traffic speed. So for example, on urban roads a 10 per cent increase in mean speed could result in a 21 per cent increase in collisions. (Taylor et al 2000).

  Broadly speaking, for each 1 mph reduction in average speed accident frequency is cut by 5 per cent (Finch et al 1994). NB. This applies only to the range of road types and traffic conditions covered in the study (with average speeds of between 30 mph and 50 mph and cannot be extended beyond that or applied to large changes in speed).

  Excess or inappropriate speed contributes to a significant percentage of all crashes and a higher percentage of more serious crashes. (By definition: excess speed is above the speed limit, and inappropriate speed is within the speed limit, but inappropriate for the conditions).

  The higher the proportion of those drivers who speed, the more accidents—the accident frequency rises by 19 per cent if the average speed of the speeders increases by 1 mph (Taylor et al 2000). This leads to the conclusion that reducing the speed of the fastest drivers relative to the average speed of the traffic is likely to bring greater accidents benefits than reducing the average speed for all drivers, particularly on urban roads.

  Individuals driving at more than 10-15 per cent above the average speed of the traffic around them, are much more likely to be involved in an accident (Maycock et al 1998, Quimby et al 1999a and b).

(ii)  Severity of Accidents

  The likelihood of being seriously injured in a collision rises significantly with small changes in impact speed. The probability of serious injury to a belted car occupant in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20 mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater (Hobbs and Mills 1984).

  For pedestrians and cyclists at-the-scene investigations of collisions involving pedestrians and cars found that at up to 20 mph being hit by a car is survivable by 95 per cent of pedestrians, at up to 30 mph 55 per cent survive and at up to 40 mph only 15 per cent survive. The change from mainly survivable injuries to mainly fatal injuries takes place at speeds of between about 30 and 40 mph (Ashton 1981).

  Elderly pedestrians are more likely to sustain non-minor and fatal injuries than younger people in the same impact conditions due to their greater physical frailty.

(iii)  Reducing the quality of life in urban areas

  Traffic speed, actual and perceived, affects quality of life and the social costs are borne mainly by those outside of moving vehicles. The effects are difficult to quantify and will differ according to the type of area, and the local environment. Injuries and noise are easiest to identify and measure, but it is harder to quantify the effects that fear of fast moving vehicles has in discouraging people from walking, cycling and horse riding, or in limiting their enjoyment of or ability to reach facilities.

  Fast traffic contributes to the severance of communities, and disproportionately affects those who find it difficult to cross busy roads, especially older people and children. In worst cases this can increase inequalities and cause social exclusion in communities by making it more difficult to form support networks and, for those without cars, to get to necessary facilities, such as shops, schools and medical services (Department of Health 1998, Health Education Authority 1998). Pollution levels and general public health are worse in inner cities and there are higher than average child road casualty rates in poorer neighbourhoods (Christie 1995). Physical activity is important in reducing heart disease and strokes (Department of Health 1999), and if traffic speed dissuades some people from walking and cycling, it could affect their health and general fitness.

(iv)  The consequences of illegal and inappropriate speed for urban design

  To manage speed to safe and acceptable levels Local Authorities are required to set appropriate speed limits and introduce measures to achieve compliance, including engineering and enforcement. In many circumstances the 30 mph urban limit is appropriate, but in some cases 20 mph speed limits are more appropriate. Traffic calmed 20 mph zones are particularly effective in residential areas where people want to walk and cycle, particularly where children are present. See Annex 2.

  DTLR support authorities financially and with guidance on implementing innovative schemes, especially in support of local casualty reduction targets.


  This has been the subject of extensive research both in the UK and other countries, and there is a large amount published, including studies of driver behaviour and attitudes to speed and enforcement, and research into proven and promising interventions. References to some of the key research studies are at the end of this memorandum. Work sponsored by DTLR is marked *.


(i)  Better enforcement

  Until recently enforcement of speed limits required intensive use of police time and has had to compete with other law enforcement priorities. Developments in enforcement camera technology (see section below) mean that better enforcement is now a more credible approach. ACPO has clear enforcement guidelines, whether using officers in vehicles or at the roadside or automatic fixed cameras. The latter are being used increasingly to enforce speed limits at sites or on routes with a history of accidents. A Home Office study showed a 28 per cent reduction in accidents at speed camera sites (Hooke et al 1996). However, operational and purchase costs fell entirely to the police and local authorities and that was a constraint. As a result the Government changed the rules to permit some fixed penalty fine revenue to be re-invested in camera operation. In April 2000 a trial in eight police force areas began to test the system. The Executive Summary of the first year's monitoring report shows a reduction of 47 per cent in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured at the camera sites (Gains et al 2001). The system is now being rolled-out nationally. See Annex 5.

(ii)  Road re-design and traffic calming

  Engineering based road design and speed management treatments are extensively used to manage speed and improve safety in urban and rural areas, although the methods used differ. Traffic calming using horizontal and vertical deflections is widespread in urban areas, where the techniques are well developed and have been demonstrated to be effective.

  DTLR is funding an expansion of child pedestrian safety/20mph zones, mainly in residential and school areas, with grants totally £3.5 million to 27 LHAs in the current programme. Other urban roads, such as busy high streets, have their own safety problems and five demonstration schemes to improve safety on mixed priority urban routes were announced on 27 November 2001, funded by DTLR grant totalling £5.5 million.

  A current initiative primarily to improve quality of life is the development of Home Zones that are designed as very low speed areas with shared access by traffic and people. The Prime Minister announced on 24 April 2001 the intention to accelerate the growth of the programme of Home Zones in England, by establishing a £30 million challenge fund. Successful schemes will be announced early in 2002. See Annex 2.

  Gloucester Safer City (DTLR 2001c) successfully demonstrated how an overall approach to urban safety management in a free-standing city can provide significant benefits for safety. The application of these lessons to inner city areas is less clear and a further demonstration project is being planned to illustrate how significant investment, together with integrated network and safety management, can benefit communities. Inner city projects will be targeted at areas of high social deprivation, as there is evidence that less well off people are disproportionately involved as road accident casualties. Grant funding of £6 million will be made to one LHA following bids in 2002 for an Inner City Demonstration project.

  However, in rural areas speed management and safety practice is less well developed. Accidents on rural roads tend not to be concentrated at specific locations, but scattered along sections of road. DTLR-commissioned research indicates that accident rates quantified per junction, per bend or per vehicle-kilometre might be useful ways to prioritise areas for remedial treatment. LHAs would be given accident rates based on national figures for different classes of rural road. These would give a benchmark for authorities to use as suggested intervention levels for their own roads (Barker et al 1999, IHT 1999). The Department will shortly issue advice on using the intervention levels.

  Many interventions developed for urban areas are either not suitable or practical for use in rural areas, eg road humps may be visually intrusive and unacceptable in some rural communities, or inappropriate on roads with higher traffic volumes and speeds. A research contract has been let to investigate further and implement "natural traffic calming measures". This will follow on from the more theoretical studies undertaken by the Scottish Executive and the Highways Agency. Measures for both rural and urban areas will be examined. The encouragement and dissemination of best practice by issuing and updating best practice guidelines, such as those published in June 2001, (DTLR 2001b) will continue. More on engineering treatments is at Annex 2.

(iii)  Road re-classification

  The Government's Road Safety Strategy suggested that a hierarchy of roads defined by function might help in setting speed limits and improve consistency nationally from area to area. As a first step DTLR commissioned a working group to consider the development of a rural road hierarchy for speed management and it recently reported its findings (Silcock et al 2001). We will build on their recommendations in conjunction with other work in hand or planned arising from the Road Safety Strategy to develop better speed management measures for rural roads. More detail is at Annex 7.

(iv)  Physical measure to separate pedestrians and cars

  Physical separation of traffic and pedestrians is appropriate in certain circumstances. For example barriers are erected on fast stretches of road to prevent pedestrians crossing at dangerous points. But, in the vast majority of cases it is neither possible nor desirable to separate completely traffic and pedestrians and ways are sought to help the two groups co-exist safely. The mixed priority route demonstration is an example of the philosophy of redesigning road space so that pedestrians have a safer environment whilst maintaining access for vehicles. Within town centres and other areas with a mixture of land uses, planning guidance already recommends that priority should be given to people over traffic. Well designed pedestrianisation schemes generally prove popular and commercially successful, and local authorities should consider traffic calming and reallocating road space to promote safe walking and cycling and to give priority to public transport.

(v)  Technology

  Several promising engineering based solutions to speed management problems are emerging, and existing ones such as speed cameras are being adopted more widely. These include digital speed cameras linked with automatic number plate recognition equipment to monitor and enforce longer stretches of road than conventional speed cameras. DTLR sponsored research suggests that mandatory Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) which uses in-car systems that control vehicle speeds to the prevailing speed limit could reduce fatal accidents by 37 per cent. This rises to 59 per cent using a mandatory dynamic speed limiter that adapts to road conditions (Carsten and Fowkes 2000). ISA may have a future role to play in managing vehicle speeds and improving road safety, but more research is needed into the effects of such a system on driver behaviour. However, this technology is many years off and the Government has no plans to seek mandatory speed limiters for cars.

  Car design can help mitigate the consequences of accidents caused by speeding with devices such as seatbelts, airbags, stronger passenger compartments and energy absorbing car fronts. As mandatory design changes, these have to be introduced on a Europe-wide basis because of single market implications.

  More on Technology is at Annex 6.

(vi)  Education to improve drivers' and motor cyclists' behaviour and pedestrian and cyclist awareness

  Safe speed choice is now a key element of novice training for car drivers and motorcyclists. We want to improve the quality of training for all drivers and will continue to improve the driving test. Drivers should be equipped with the right skills and the right attitude to drive safely and responsibly. We are currently developing a test of hazard perception ability, which will form part of the theory test from October 2002. The associated training will also focus on the need for safe speeds and appropriate separation distances, in order that the driver will be able to respond to hazards in good time. It is hoped that this measure will affect speed choice by alerting new drivers to the potential for hazards in the traffic environment.

  DTLR has a long established commitment to increasing public awareness of the dangers of speeding through national publicity campaigns that are also supported in the Regions. These usually comprise hard-hitting television and radio commercials that make clear the consequences of speeding. To obtain maximum effectiveness anti-speed campaigns are developed and timed to fit into the overall road safety publicity programme. Campaigns are monitored for their effectiveness and to inform future approaches.

  Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to injury in collisions at any speed. Initiatives aimed at improving riding skills include raising speed awareness. Motorcyclists are required to undergo more extensive training than car drivers, the hazard perception test is being introduced for all test candidates and the standards of motorcycle instructors will be improved. Publications and videos offering guidance to motorcyclists are being issued. It is recognised that reducing excessive and inappropriate speeds in urban areas offers great potential to reduce death and injury among all vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians.

  Most speed management initiatives and interventions benefit cyclists, including traffic calming, 20 mph zones and improvements to road engineering. Better enforcement also improves compliance with significant safety benefits and casualty reductions among cyclists from the resulting lower vehicle speeds.

  As for cyclists, most speed management policies also offer significant safety benefits to pedestrians. One of our priorities is to create a safer and more pleasant environment for pedestrians through better enforcement of speed limits coupled with tougher penalties, encouraging schools and LHAs to work towards developing safer journeys to school, and introducing further lower speed zones in residential areas.

  A concerted effort to reduce child pedestrian casualties is already having a positive effect, and our performance has improved so that the UK is now average among EU countries. More generally we are working to educate drivers, through better training and testing, to increase awareness of their responsibilities towards all vulnerable road users. There are many national and local initiatives and measures to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. See Annex 3.

(vii)  Changes to speed limits

  Research shows that decreases in speed limits alone are relatively ineffective, generally only about a quarter of the reduction in speed limit is realised in actual changes to speed. Also, small changes in limits are more effective in influencing drivers' speed than large changes (Finch et al 1994). DTLR recommends that to achieve desired reductions in speed, changes to speed limits be accompanied by measures such as engineering and enforcement, coupled with education.

  Given the research evidence and experience DTLR does not support blanket changes to national speed limits, but these are always kept under review. Instead it will aim to revise the guidance on setting local limits to achieve appropriate, consistent standards across the country that reflect, as far as possible, the needs of all road users. DTLR is investigating the use of a methodology based on a new approach to appraisal of road schemes to ensure that when limits are set for road safety purposes the wider impacts are also assessed. The guidance will cover measures local authorities should apply to achieve appropriate vehicle speeds, and should be combined with the development of a simpler method of making speed limits by reference to a speed management strategy.

(viii)  What specific policies should be implemented

  The Government's Road Safety Strategy (DETR 2000b) sets out its policies on speed management and this is currently being implemented with several commitments already fulfilled. These include an expansion of the use of 20 mph zones, mixed priority route demonstration schemes, Home Zones, expansion of safety camera enforcement by netting off fine revenue and work underway on improving rural road speed management.


(i)  Whether LAs, DTLR, HA, Police and Home Office are providing a co-ordinated approach, and what they should do

  There are many instances of good co-operation between relevant bodies working together in setting speed limits and their enforcement. The most complex example is the Safety Camera Project Board in which the following are involved: DTLR, The Highways Agency, Lord Chancellor's Department, HM Treasury, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, Scottish Executive, National Assembly for Wales, ACPO and local authority representation by the CSS and LGA. See Annex 5.

  Other examples include the joint working of local highway authorities with the Police Service at local level to undertake crime and disorder audits, and to develop countermeasures in response to public concerns. Day to day traffic management and speed matters are undertaken in partnership and DTLR, through its Regional Government Offices, works closely with LHAs on a number of road safety issues. LHAs and Health Authorities are working together to share information on road accident casualties and to develop appropriate education and other interventions. There are also examples of joint working with the Department of Health on initiatives to increase the wearing of bicycle helmets, and with Education Departments to develop safer journeys to school.

  The issues of speed management in rural areas are being tackled through co-operation with the Countryside Agency and local groups.

  Local authorities in England and Wales have a statutory duty to produce a Local Transport Plan (LTP). Guidance to local authorities sets out the requirements for these plans which cover all forms of transport and must include a local road safety strategy with supporting local casualty reduction targets. Resources for road safety are no longer ring fenced, but contained within authorities' integrated transport block allocation. More detail at Annex 1.

  On trunk roads the Highways Agency works with other highway authorities to manage speed through engineering and enforcement. On the motorway network operated by the Highways Agency there are several specially developed and installed systems to ensure the safe and efficient operation of these roads. These are described in Annex 8.

(ii)  Whether the sentences imposed by magistrates and judges on those convicted of speeding offences have in all cases been appropriate and what other approaches ought to be considered

  Apart from drink driving, the problem faced by successive governments is that road traffic offences are not widely regarded by society as being as serious as other crimes. Speeding in particular, despite being a criminal offence, is often viewed as no more serious than illegal parking. Serious attempts are being made by DTLR, The Home Office and road safety organisations to alter that view through national and local publicity campaigns.

  There are other ways the criminal justice system can educate offenders and deter speeding rather than just punishing after the event. The success of rehabilitation courses for drink drivers, and driver improvement schemes for minor offences in lieu of prosecution suggests that a similar approach might work for habitual speeders and people who lose their licence for speeding. Research in this area is planned with an international review to be undertaken as a preliminary step to consider development of driver improvement schemes to address a wider range of offences and as a court disposal.

  Magistrates in England and Wales have guidelines on how to assess appropriate penalties. The Government's Road Safety Strategy referred to the possibility of tougher penalties for speeding and possibly creating a new offence to deal with motorists who drive far in excess of the speed limit. This has been considered in the context of a Review of Road Traffic penalties, led by the Home Office. More on penalties and sentencing is at Annex 4.

(iii)  Whether motor manufacturers, the national press, TV programmes about motoring and advertisers have shown an appropriate attitude to speed, and how they should change

  DTLR is keen to see responsible behaviour by drivers and other roads users portrayed in advertising. The Independent Television Commission's Code of Advertising Standards and Practice contains detailed regulations governing the responsible depiction of driving in television advertisements. Compliance with the Code is continuously monitored by the ITC. Ways to encourage the advertising and motor industries to promote the portrayal of more responsible driving behaviour in advertising are being considered. Because of the broader availability of television advertising from sources outside the UK, the European Commission is considering a Europe-wide code of practice for car advertising and DTLR is co-operating in that.


  Speed management strategies are seen as key to implementing speed management policies in a consistent way across the country. The DTLR is committed to improving the safety of both rural and urban roads by introducing the measures that research has shown to be effective, to carrying out further research into speed related problems and to issuing up-to-date guidance on good practice.

  Gloucester "Safer City" has shown that urban safety management strategies can work and we need to redouble our efforts to develop successful rural speed management strategies. The Department was a co-sponsor of and contributor to work by the Institution of Highways and Transportation who have published Guidelines for Rural Safety Management (1999). The OECD published Safety Strategies for Rural Roads (1999), and officials from DTLR were on its working group. The ECMT is currently developing a report and recommendations for rural road safety, and DTLR is participating in this work. The common theme is the need for integrated safety management and the development of speed strategies able to deliver real changes in speed and reductions in casualties.

January 2002

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